Nestled high in the Sonoran desert 40 miles north-east of Phoenix, Rio Verde, Arizona is an active community sitting along the western edge of the Verde River and adjacent to McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Known for its spectacular mountain views, its serenity, and its outstanding services and amenities, the Rio Verde residents are involved in a process to ensure sustained sensitivity to the land, water, and cultural heritage of the area. 

Rio Verde residents take part in a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities that include golf, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Respecting the desert’s ecological limits is an essential element to preserving this way of life. This small, planned community of 1,400 residents is working with a non-profit partner to protect and enhance the environment while advancing economic development and preserving a vibrant social fabric.

Resident Sal Celona approached Audubon International for assistance in moving the community forward on sustainability and providing some organizational focus. As volunteer Sustainability Coordinator, he oversees the effort to make Rio Verde a certified Audubon International Sustainable Community. A comprehensive assessment of the community’s green practices and survey of residents’ priorities earned Rio Verde Audubon’s Green Community Award.

The Community Association has reduced water and energy use on the property, through the installation of solar panels on the Community Center and reuse of wastewater treated and recycled for residential use to irrigate turf areas in the community’s Country Club. Two local entrepreneurs adapted one corner of the property into a garden, offering locally grown produce and reducing the need for out-of-town trips to the grocery store.

To get residents engaged in sustainability, a one day conference on “Green and Clean” was sponsored by the community, which covered water and energy conservation, desert gardening and solar power. In the future, an annual “Living Green in the Verdes” Fair will bring in regional experts on water and desert landscaping to offer residents green tips and products.

Through a partnership with the Salt River Project, residents have been encouraged to convert existing irrigation controllers by purchasing a “smart” irrigation controller at a discounted price. This new irrigation technology allows water to be dispersed based on season, reducing the impact on water supplies and residents’ water bills.

To support the increased emphasis on resident involvement, a new column titled “The Sustainable Way” is published in the community’s newsletter that provides residents with information on a number of sustainable projects, programs and activities that are already in existence and others that are being contemplated or under consideration for the future.

The Rio Verde Confluence. Photo Credit: Chris English.

In 2011, Rio Verde adopted an official Sustainability Policy that identifies priorities and policies needed regarding energy production and use, the use and development of grounds and facilities, construction, modernization, maintenance practices, transportation utilization, and optimal materials use that will be predicated by the impact they have on the environment. To begin implementation of the policy, the Rio Verde Sustainability Community Alliance (SCA) committee produced a Sustainability Portfolio, highlighting priority projects for the future and resources available for each.

To encourage the continued development of green initiatives within Rio Verde, the SCA is soliciting more community involvement through public meetings to determine which lifestyle areas are of most interest and importance to residents. Together, the policy, planning process, and these projects showcase a commitment to the environment in Rio Verde and a resolve to expand that commitment in the future.

Mr. Celona is eager to lead his community through the planning process and to certification. “We will accrue the economic advantages, the pride of accomplishment and knowledge that we have gained being an active participant in an essential program of growth and betterment,” he explains.

Audubon International is currently working to develop leadership role models of sustainable communities throughout the country. One goal is to make Rio Verde the sustainable community model for the West.

The City of Eufaula, Alabama and Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont are also certified members of the Sustainable Communities Program.


Case Study Resources

Audubon International Sustainable Communities Program – website

The Sustainable Communities Program Fact Sheet 



Rio Verde Sustainability Project Matrix – PDF

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  • Challenges:
  • energy
  • waterconservation
  • culturalpres
  • State:
  • arizona
  • Scale:
  • community
  • Type:
  • amenity, urban